Ralph Perry's Custom Yamaha Virago 1100

Birds of a Feather

Ralph Perrys Customized Virago
Ralph Perry caught the customizing bug before his Virago left the showroom floor.Mark Langello

This article was originally published in the October 1999 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

How many cruisers can say their ride was never a stocker? Ralph Perry can. He started customizing his bike before it left the showroom floor—even before the ink was dry on the bill of sale. But his customizing wasn’t of the “I’ll take a couple of those chrome doo-dads there and, what the heck, throw in a windshield, a seat and a set of bags, too” variety. He’s a firm believer in crafting the parts himself.

Perry’s ’88 Virago 1100 was purchased to replace a Virago an errant car and its driver had turned into scrap metal. With an insurance check in hand, he set out to finish what he’d started with his previous bike. Perry got the customizing urge one afternoon when a bike exactly like his pulled up next to him at a stoplight. Although he nodded, and maybe even made some small talk with the other owner, he vowed he would never see another bike anything like his again. So, before he picked up his new Virago, he stripped the old one, making the accident a mere setback in his journey to his own special ride.

Perry Virago details
Not an inch of Perry's Virago was left untouched. The engine alone features an entire flock of eagles.Mark Langello

Remaking his bike involved some of the traditional steps (removing the OE stickers, replacing the seat, adding a rack) but, for the most part, the project followed its own path. Perry is one of those builders who haunts motorcycle boneyards. For him the pleasure lies in finding an eye-catching part and figuring out where it belongs on his bike—sometimes taking weeks in the process. Also, once he finds a unique part for one side of the bike, he begins to search for a complementary piece. “If you find something for the left side, you gotta find something for the right,” says Perry. Usually, the part must be modified before being mounted to his Virago. This explains the almost jewelry-like detail lavished on this motorcycle.

The paint reflects Perry's intricate approach to customizing. The bodywork paint was applied by Wild Bill in Chaparral, New Mexico. Perry helped Bill work on the bike, performing much of the labor required to prep the metal, and was given the paint for his effort. The colors are protected by 21 coats of clear lacquer. Perry claims, "That paint won't even chip." All of the paint applied to the frame and switch gear contains glitter that makes the parts shimmer as the light reflects off of it. Even the engine's fins wear glitter! The eagles on the tool pouch, the grips and the seat were designed by an airbrush artist at a swap meet in Perry's home state of Arizona.

Perry Virago Decoration
Due to the detail work involved, much of the paint was applied by hand. Even the switch housings received ornithic decoration as well as glitter and other found objects (such as a heart with an arrow through it). Many of the bolt-on parts reflect their home-crafted origin. The grill protecting the headlight is a prime example.Mark Langello

And the eagles—Perry figures at least 50 eagles grace his machine.

"It could be more but it'd be hard to count," he states. When we asked why he chose this particular symbol, he explained that eagles mean freedom, "and that's what motorcycles are about." Besides, he wanted something to catch the viewer's eye, and he feels eagles are better than skulls or naked ladies. And Perry isn't through with this feathered flock, yet. He'd like to add custom billet wheels with one of the noble birds cut out of each spoke. Then this bike should be finished.

Perry hopes his Virago inspires others to customize their rides. Why? Because it’s a good hobby, and creating something gives him tremendous satisfaction. After all, he’s spent 11 years crafting his Virago—and it has paid off in more than 150 trophies. Soon, he says, he’ll be visiting a junkyard to find another bike so he can start the process again. Perry concludes in his understated tone, “This is too much fun.”